Byko: Johnny Depp and I say 'aloha' to a cool summer fashion

BYKO19C
Just a few of Stu’s casual wear items for the summer.

Jimmy Buffett. Johnny Depp. Nick Nolte. Me.

Common denominator? Hawaiian shirts, and they're back in style.

Wearing one is a statement. Now that they are "in," the joy-deprived haters must crawl back into their button-down or plaid tunnels. I feel vindicated.

Proof they're back was provided July 10 when fashion columnist Elizabeth Wellington announced the return of the colorful shirts (as if they ever really went away).

Today is the day to talk about this. It is Hawaiian Shirt Day, always the third Friday in August, marking the anniversary of when Hawaii added the 50th white star to Old Glory.

To me, today is just Friday. I wear Hawaiian shirts all summer long, and have for a long time. How long? Not sure.

I wore one to host my first Candidates Comedy Night in 1991 because it already had become my summer trademark. That's more than 25 years, or a quarter-century if you like fractions.

I bought three during my first visit to Hawaii in 1976, 40 years after they were christened "aloha" shirts. Credit goes to Yale-educated Ellery Chun of King-Smith Clothiers in Waikiki. He coined the name and mass-produced shirts printed with brilliant colors and a floral motif. I have about three dozen.

Why I wear them is easy. Aloha shirts, no longer restricted to palm tree and hibiscus designs, make me feel good. I have shirts featuring jungle animals, wild sunsets, and World War II vintage aircraft. That's not traditional, nor are shirts featuring automobiles, beer bottles, and sports logos. Manufacturers figured out that expanding the design selection expands sales.

Importantly, aloha shirts make other people feel good. A particularly colorful one generates smiles on strangers' faces.

People who have visited Hawaii may flash me the hand signal that means hang loose, everything's cool. The sign, credited to the surfing community, is the thumb and pinkie fingers up, the other three folded down while flipping the wrist back and forth.

All my shirts are cotton and cool in the summer. Tip: Rayon looks nice but it sticks to you.

Hawaiian shirts usually have short sleeves, large patterns, a collar, and a breast pocket. They are worn untucked, hiding bellies and firearms (I suppose).

When Wellington reported they are back in style, she showed some that cost about $180. That's three times more than I pay - and mine are made in Hawaii. It says so on the label.

Thanks to the internet, I order online from outlets such as Hilo Hattie, Aloha Republic, or Pacific Legends.

My shirts go for about $60, some cost more, but you can find "out of style" shirts for as little as $20. Who knows they are "out of style"?

Aloha shirts are not for people with weak egos, because wearing them invites kidding from people who lack the nerve to wear them.

Some of this aura I lay on Hollywood, which often puts Hawaiian shirts on characters with mental or moral deficiencies. Examples? Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona, Al Pacino in Scarface, Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. Remember what Nick Nolte was wearing in his infamous, wild-hair police mug shot? That could have set back the cause.

On the positive side, Hawaiian shirts are regularly worn by the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett, and were worn by Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., Elvis in Blue Hawaii, and even George Clooney in The Descendants.

It's a mixed bag, but if you want to be a style-setter, you gotta square up and carry the load.

Some think Hawaiian shirts should be put away after Labor Day. Mine go into storage only after it stops being stinking hot (with one or two kept handy for Indian summer days).

I even have one with a Santa motif that comes out for December holiday parties.

Believe me, it's a hit. Aloha.

stubyko@phillynews.com

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

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